Joe Lombardi, who was formerly the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints, took over as the new offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions this past week.
One NFC general manager told me he would not be surprised that in a short time Lombardi, the grandson of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, became a head coach in the NFL.
"Joe is a really bright guy. He has learned under Sean Payton, who has the best offensive mind in the game and most importantly worked with one of the great students in this profession in Drew Brees. If he can straighten out the kinks in Matt Stafford's game in Detroit it won't be long that he becomes a head coach. If Dennis Allen after only being a defensive coordinator one season in Denver becomes a head coach after coaching the defensive backs with the New Orleans Saints Lombardi can make the next jump too. And that last name of his doesn't hurt his chances either."
Two players that the New Orleans Saints coaching staff and scouting department seemed to be eyeing up pretty close was Florida State center Bryan Stork and Seminole linebacker Christian Jones.
Stork, a 6-4, 310 pound center, who has also started at guard, was a blocking tight end in high school.
He is a very solid run blocker and he displayed excellent hand usage during the practice sessions, but it was his quick feet and good pass protection skills that also caught the eyes of the Saints coaches and scouts.
His versatility, size and very good pass blocking skills make him a good fit player for the Saints.
Jones, a 6-3, 238 pounder has played middle linebacker, on the strongside and also at weakside linebacker for Florida State.
The son of former FSU All-American defensive end Willie Jones is strong at the point of attack and also very athletic as a pass rusher. But his ability to run the field really sticks out and we all know Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves versatility, toughness and all-out play.
That is what you will get if you draft Jones and he projects as a late second round pick or early third round selection in the May 2014 NFL draft.
Many of the top seniors decided not to play in the 2014 Senior Bowl either because of injury or advice from agents to work out on their own turf in a sterile environment, but it was two juniors who do not play quarterback that was also the buzz in Mobile.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and former Thibodaux High School and Auburn left offensive tackle Greg Robinson were talked about quite a bit in Mobile.
One AFC general manager told me that Watkins was a player that could well turn out to be the top player on their draft board and the one non-quarterback that teams will be trying to trade up to acquire.
"Sammy has great size, sprinter's type foot speed and he really improved his route running skills this season and with DeAndre Hopkins in the NFL with the Houston Texans he showed he could take on and beat constant double coverage and he is also a force in the return game. I really believe his versatility, like what we saw last season with West Virginia's Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams)will make him a top-5 pick in 2014 and that will also upgrade the draft status of Marqise Lee (USC), Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU) and Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)."
Robinson, the 6-5, 315 pound left tackle has been one of the "hot" players to watch since the start of November and NFL scouts can't wait to watch him work out at the Combine and also at Auburn's Pro Day.
Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews is the highest ranked offensive lineman in the 2014 draft class, but Robinson is not far behind him and he will be a top-10 pick in 2014.
The quick-footed left tackle prospect may well press former Hahnville High School and LSU safety LaRon Landry in being the highest drafted player from the Bayou/River Parish areas. Landry was the 6th overall selection in 2007.
Wide Receiver Frank Lewis, who went to Southdown High School in Terrebonne Parish and attended Grambling University, was the 8th overall pick in the 1971 draft.
Every year there are a handful of players that elevate their draft stock with a strong performance in the practice sessions leading to the Senior Bowl. Here is my take on the seven "Run Up the Board" players in the practice sessions for 2014.
1. Aaron Donald — Defensive Tackle — Pittsburgh
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman put on a fine performance in Mobile and he looks like a first round pick talent at defensive tackle, but the 6-0 1/4, 290 pound Donald was the eye-catcher during the practice sessions.
Despite not having ideal height and weight Donald used great leverage skills and hand-usage to defeat would-be blockers on a consistent basis and the scouts loved his hustle, desire and quick diagnostic skills.
In 2013 the Lombardi, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Outland Trophy award winner totaled 28 1/2 tackles for losses, 11 quarterback sacks and he forced four fumbles.
In many ways he looks like a composite of Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals) and former New Orleans Saints/Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
If there were any question marks about his play and his talent it was put away this week and Donald looks to be an early second round selection.
2. Morgan Moses — Offensive Tackle — Virginia
Left tackles that can pass block well are in high demand by NFL teams. This week in Mobile one player who caught everyone's attention with his size, 6-6, 330, quick feet and his physicality as a run blocker was Morgan Moses from Virginia.
While Moses may need to lose a little weight to keep his unique quickness skills and movement ability as a pass blocker as a high level he certainly displayed all the physical traits scouts are looking for as a left tackle prospect.
His long arms and his work at both right and left tackle are huge plusses for him as a player and what I liked from him was his ability to finish off a block.
Right now Moses is pressing the envelope as a late first round pick or a very early second round choice in May.
3. Chris Borland — Inside Linebacker — Wisconsin
Borland is 5-11 and 245 pounds, but he made quite an impact all week in Mobile. Borland displayed excellent hand-usage in getting away from blockers, quick read skills and the ability to flow quickly to the ballcarrier.
Borland is also pretty good dropping back into his pass coverage area of the field. The Badger thumper in the middle looks like a third round pick.
4. Dee Ford — Outside Linebacker/Defensive End — Auburn
Every NFL team is looking for pass rushers and Ford displayed the edge foot speed and quickness that he had flashed throughout his college career for Auburn.
The 6-2 1/4, 242 pounder has really upgraded his ability to use his quick hands and long arms to get around blockers and he has terrific closing speed to the quarterback.
Pass rushers rarely last long on draft day and I look for Ford to be an early second round selection.
5. Gabe Jackson — Offensive Guard — Mississippi State
Notre Dame's Zack Martin was the top offensive lineman in Mobile, but the 6-3 1/4, 340 pound Jackson put on a real show for the scouts and coaches.
Despite his massive frame he was able to move his body around with great ease on the pitch plays and getting to the second level. He also displayed quick feet, good body balance and improved pass blocking techniques during the practice sessions.
Jackson will press Baylor's Cyril Richardson in being the top pure guard off the board in 2014 and he projects as an early second round choice.
6. Josh Huff — Wide Receiver — Oregon
The speedy Huff was not the name on the marquee for the Ducks’ offense, but he did catch 62 passes for an average of 18.4 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns.
Huff was impressive in his route-running tree and his ability to make sharp cuts downfield. He has excellent eye-hand coordination and his (4.43) 40-yard dash speed got him away from defenders in a flash.
He can also help out in the return game and the coaches in Mobile praised his skills as a downfield blocker also.
Huff has moved into being a top-100 pick in 2014.
7. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
Last year in this same space I wrote about how the most impressive player in Mobile was Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
That honor this year should have went to Buffalo University outside linebacker Khalil Mack, but his absence left one of the most underrated football players in the country, Kyle Van Noy, an opportunity to seize the moment
The 6-2 1/2, 235 pounder displayed good pass rush skills off the edge and very good closing speed to the quarterback.
But what jumped out was his ability to run the field from sideline to sideline. His lateral movement skills and his athleticism showed up strong all week long.
Van Noy lacks great size and bulk strength and in many ways looks like an outside linebacker version of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) when he came out of Ohio State. His quick football instincts, toughness in run support and his ability to consistently get around would be blockers will have him going very early in the second round.
Van Noy is someone with 1st rate trackdown skills and also very sure openfield tackler.
While Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his
move to try and catch Fresno State’s Derek Carr for the 4th overall quarterback spot Van Noy made his move to try and squeeze into Round One.
One thing to watch for is that Buffalo’s Khalil Mack will push UCLA's Anthony Barr for being the top outside linebacker off the board in May.
1. Jadeveon Clowney — Defensive End — South Carolina
2. Jake Matthews — Offensive Tackle — Texas A&M
3. Sammy Watkins — Wide Receiver — Clemson
4. Anthony Barr — Outside Linebacker — UCLA
5. Johnny Manziel — Quarterback — Texas A&M
6. Teddy Bridgewater — Quarterback — Louisville
7. Greg Robinson — Offensive Tackle — Auburn
8. Khalil Mack — Outside Linebacker — Buffalo
9. Blake Bortles — Quarterback — Central Florida
10. Marqise Lee — Wide Receiver — USC
11. Taylor Lewan — Offensive Tackle — Michigan
12. Louis Nix III — Defensive Tackle — Notre Dame
13. Mike Evans — Wide Receiver — Texas A&M
14. C.J. Mosley — Inside Linebacker — Alabama
15. Tim Jernigan — Defensive Tackle — Florida State
16. Darqueze Dennard — Cornerback — Michigan State
17. Eric Ebron — Tight End — North Carolina
18. Zack Martin — Offensive Tackle — Notre Dame
19. Odell Beckham, Jr. — Wide Receiver — LSU
20. Justin Gilbert — Cornerback — Oklahoma State
21. Cyrus Kouandjio — Offensive Tackle — Alabama
22. Ha Ha Clinton Dix — Free Safety — Alabama
23. Kelvin Benjamin — Wide Receiver — Florida State
24. Stephon Tuitt — Defensive End — Notre Dame
25. Brandin Cooks — Wide Receiver — Oregon State
26. Jace Amaro — Tight End — Texas Tech
27. RaShede Hageman — Defensive Tackle — Minnesota
28. Kony Ealy — Defensive End — Missouri
29. Jason Verrett — Cornerback — TCU
30. Cyril Richardson — Offensive Guard — Baylor
31. Dee Ford — Outside Linebacker/Defensive End — Auburn
32. Ryan Shazier — Outside Linebacker — Ohio State
33. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
34. Aaron Donald — Defensive Tackle — Pittsburgh
35. Allen Robinson — Wide Receiver — Penn State
36. Morgan Moses — Offensive Tackle — Virginia
37. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Tight End — Washington
38. Derek Carr — Quarterback — Fresno State
39. Travis Swanson — Offensive Center —Arkansas
40. David Yankey — Offensive Guard — Stanford
41. Calvin Pryor — Free Safety — Louisville
42. Antonio Richardson — Offensive Tackle — Tennessee
43. Scott Crichton — Defensive End — Oregon State
44. Gabe Jackson — Offensive Guard — Mississippi State
45. Xavier Su’a-Filo- Offensive Guard — UCLA
46. Kyle Fuller — Cornerback —Virginia Tech
47. Jarvis Landry — Wide Receiver — LSU
48. Jordan Matthews — Wide Receiver — Vanderbilt
49. Bradley Roby — Cornerback — Ohio State
50. Will Sutton — Defensive Tackle — Arizona State
51. Trent Murphy — Outside Linebacker — Stanford
52. Ego Ferguson — Defensive Tackle — LSU
53. Jimmy Garoppolo — Quarterback — Eastern Illinois
54. Ed Reynolds — Free Safety — Stanford
55. Marcus Roberson — Cornerback — Florida
56. Deone Bucannon — Strong Safety — Washington State
57. Tre Mason — Halfback — Auburn
58. Trevor Reilly — Outside Linebacker — Utah
59. Davante Adams — Wide Receiver — Fresno State
60. Lamarcus Joyner — Free Safety/Cornerback — Florida State
61. Kelcy Quarles — Defensive Tackle — South Carolina
62. Billy Turner — Offensive Tackle — North Dakota State
63. Martavis Bryant — Wide Receiver — Clemson
64. Jeremy Hill — Halfback — LSU
65. Ka’Deem Carey — Halfback — Arizona
66. Louchiez Purifoy — Cornerback — Florida
67. Carlos Hyde — Halfback — Ohio State
68. Zach Mettenberger — Quarterback — LSU
69. Arthur Lynch — Tight End — Georgia
70. Christian Jones — Middle/Outside Linebacker — Florida State
71. DaQuan Jones — Defensive Tackle — Penn State
72. Dominique Easley — Defensive Tackle — Florida
73. Michael Sam — Defensive End/Outside Linebacker — Missouri
74. Shayne Skov — Inside Linebacker — Stanford
75. Chris Borland — Inside Linebacker — Wisconsin